Rebecca loves sharing what she knows about alternative medicine, health, frugal living, fun, animals, and how to live a better life!
What Is Nicotine?
Nicotine is a highly addictive central nervous system stimulant.1 When ingested, it improves your focus and concentration, accelerates your heart and breathing rate, and increases blood pressure. It is linked to raised alertness, the sensation of euphoria, and a sensation of being relaxed.2
Once in the habit of using nicotine in any form, it is very difficult to stop. According to Medical News Today, it is at least as hard to give up as heroin.
Unlike heroin, however, it is much harder to achieve a lethal dose of nicotine. In fact, it's extremely rare to do so. The vast majority of reported cases of nicotine poisoning or overdose have not been from people using the drug for recreational purposes, but from cases of accidental ingestion of nicotine products (especially for kids), from contact with tobacco leaves, or from its use as a pesticide (which has been outlawed in the United States since 2014).3
That said, it is possible to overdose on nicotine, which for the purposes of this article means ingesting a lethal dose. Cigarettes, gum, patches, and e-liquid containing nicotine could all potentially cause an overdose if taken in large enough amounts. Usually, this is seen in the case of children or pets accidentally ingesting these products.
What most people are more likely to experience is a series of unpleasant side effects that result from ingesting a larger-than-comfortable dosage of nicotine.
Note: You should never drink e-liquid, and never ever combine smoking with patches, gum, or any other combination of nicotine-containing products. Doing so can be very dangerous. For children and pets, accidental ingestion of these items can be very serious. Keep them away and out of reach.
How Much Is Too Much Nicotine?
A likely figure for a lethal dose of nicotine for adults has been estimated to be between 500-1000 mg.4 In contrast, the average U.S. cigarette delivers between one and two mg of nicotine, though this amount differs by brand and type.5 It would take smoking over 100 cigarettes in a short time period to ingest a lethal dose.
You don't have to smoke 100 cigarettes to start feeling sick, however. Even at dosages much, much less than a lethal dose, nicotine can cause some very unpleasant side effects.
Nicotine Sickness (Nic Sick)
Nicotine sickness is not life-threatening, just very unpleasant. Luckily, because it's so unpleasant, it prevents people from continuing to ingest nicotine and reaching toxic doses. Its symptoms often include:
- Racing heart
- Sweating or clamminess
The amount of nicotine a person can take without feeling any ill side effects varies drastically due to:
- Prior nicotine usage
- Whether or not they've eaten recently
- Other biological and behavioral factors
It can be easy to accidentally take an uncomfortable dose of nicotine if you've started to use it again after a period when you weren't using it, when you're using a new delivery method (i.e. vaping), or if you're trying a new product (like a new cigar or new e-cig liquid).
If you're experiencing nicotine sickness, and unless you've ingested a large amount of nicotine in a highly unusual manner (as in the above scenarios), you're going to be okay. There are some things you can do to help with the discomfort.
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- Stop taking the product that you're taking the instant that you feel nauseous or otherwise unwell. If you've spilled any e-cig liquid on your hands or body, wash the affected area with soap and water.
- Drink several glasses of water—this may help dilute the concentration of nicotine in your body.
- Eat sugar—some people swear by eating several spoonfuls of sugar, drinking a Coke, drinking juice, or eating milk chocolate to counteract nicotine sickness. The logic behind this, which seems to be supported by medical evidence as well as anecdotal evidence,6,7 is that nicotine causes a metabolic response that leads to rapidly fluctuating blood sugar levels, which can lead to nausea. Eating sugar helps bring your blood sugar levels back up.
- Eat something in general—if you can keep food down, eating something light and easy to digest (like toast, rice, bananas, or an apple) may help ease nausea as well.
The effects can last from between an hour to several hours, though there shouldn't be any lingering side effects after that.
Unfortunately, though cases of nicotine sickness are well-documented by users, it seems this has not been well studied by the medical community. Please be careful with your nicotine use and observe your body carefully, especially when changing products.
Signs and Symptoms of Nicotine Poisoning
Since lethal doses of nicotine for adults is somewhere between 500 and 1000 milligrams, most nicotine poisoning cases occur in rare circumstances, such as in high industrial exposure to the chemical.
As mentioned above, accidental ingestion of high-nicotine products by children and pets is one of the most common causes of nicotine poisoning.8
There are many ways for nicotine to enter the bloodstream, from smoking regularly or vaping e-cigarettes to using chew, patches, or gum. Nicotine can also enter the bloodstream through direct skin contact. Note: Never use nicotine patches other than as directed, and do not combine their use with smoking or other nicotine-containing products. Though this is unlikely to cause any kind of permanent damage, it could result in nicotine sickness.
Nicotine only makes up approximately 0.6–3.0% of dry weight in tobacco, which is the main ingredient of a tobacco cigarette. On average, a cigarette manufactured in the United States contains about 9 mg of nicotine, but this is not the amount of nicotine that is ingested by a smoker. When cigarettes are burned, the smoke is inhaled by the user into the lungs, where the nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream. The amount of nicotine actually entering the body varies, though it is typically between one and two mg.5
Symptoms of Overdose
Poisoning from nicotine is generally seen in two stages. The first happens within the first 15 minutes to an hour after the poisoning, and the second occurs between 30 minutes and four hours after ingestion.9
- Abdominal pain
- Tachycardia, or a dangerously fast heart rate
- Ataxia, or a lack of muscle coordination that may affect speech, eye movements, and the ability to swallow or walk
- Shaking and tremors
Some of these are similar to nicotine sickness, though, in the case of a true overdose, they will be more severe.
- Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Central nervous system depression
- Shallow breathing
- And finally, breathing and respiratory failure
Nicotine Overdose? Call Poison Control!
If you or especially a child has swallowed any kind of tobacco or nicotine product or spilled it on your skin and you suspect a nicotine overdose, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 (U.S.) Have the following information ready when you call:
-Patient's age and weight
-Name of the product
-Amount that was ingested
-When it was ingested
What to Do If You Think You or Someone Else Has Overdosed
For a mild nicotine overdose, follow the steps given above for treating nicotine sickness.
When a nicotine overdose is serious or life-threatening, however, you need to take a few more precautionary measures.9
Call Poison Control (U.S.: 800-222-1222) if you suspect that you or someone, especially a child, has swallowed any kind of tobacco or nicotine product or gotten liquid nicotine in their eye or spilled it on their skin. If you can, have the following information ready when you call:
- Patient's age and weight
- Name of the product
- Amount ingested
- When it was ingested
If the poisoned person can't wake up, has a seizure, or can't breathe, call 911.
Do not try to make them throw up or give them antacids to settle the stomach. It is okay, however, to offer them water. They'll likely start vomiting on their own.
For nicotine in the eyes, rinse the eyes with warm water for at least 15 minutes. And when it's gotten on the skin, wash the area with warm soap and water.
If You Go to the Emergency Room
In the emergency room, you may receive:10
- Activated charcoal
- Medications to control the symptoms
- A tube through the nose or mouth to wash out the contents of the stomach
If you catch the poisoning in time, the outlook is generally positive with no long-term side effects.
Wishing You Safety and Good Health
All recreational drug use needs careful attention, especially in households with children or pets that could be affected. Please be careful when using nicotine and make sure those around you are safe too.
- D'Souza, Manoranjan S., MD, Ph.D., and Athina Markou, Ph.D. "Neuronal Mechanisms Underlying Development of Nicotine Dependence: Implications for Novel Smoking-Cessation Treatments." July 2011. Addiction Science and Clinical Practice. Accessed July 7, 2017.
- Nordqvist, Christian. "Nicotine: Facts, Effects, Nicotine Addiction." December 1, 2015. Medical News Today. Accessed July 7, 2017.
- "Nicotine Poisoning?" (n.d.) Columbia University: Go Ask Alice. Accessed July 7, 2017.
- Mayer, Bernd. "How much nicotine kills a human? Tracing back the generally accepted lethal dose to dubious self-experiments in the nineteenth century." January 2014. Archives of Toxicology. Accessed July 7, 2017.
- Brown, David. "Nicotine Up Sharply in Many Cigarettes." August 31, 2006. Washington Post. Accessed July 7, 2017.
- Mishra, Aseem, Pankaj Chaturvedi, Sourav Datta, Snita Sinukumar, Poonam Joshi, and Apurva Garg. "Harmful Effects of Nicotine." Jan - Mar, 2015. Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology. Accessed July 7, 2017.
- "PSA: How to deal with a nicotine overdose in 3 easy steps." 2015. Reddit r/electronic_cigarette forum post. Accessed July 7, 2017.
- Chatham-Stephens, Kevin, Royal Law, Ethel Taylor, Stephanie Kieszak, Paul Melstrom, Rebecca Bunnell, Baoguang Wang, Hannah Day, Benjamin Apelberg, Lee Cantrell, Howell Foster, and Joshua G. Schier. "Exposure Calls to U. S. Poison Centers Involving Electronic Cigarettes and Conventional Cigarettes—September 2010–December 2014." June 28, 2016. Journal of Medical Toxicology. Accessed July 7, 2017.
- Medically reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS. "Nicotine Poisoning: Can You Overdose?" August 23, 2016. WebMD. Accessed July 7, 2017.
- "Nicotine Poisoning." January 30, 2013. NYTimes. Accessed July 7, 2017.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Rebecca
Brooke on September 25, 2017:
I think I have nicotine poisoning I threw up and have a fast heart rate and feel like shit and I'm scared someone help
Anonymous on June 30, 2017:
I am a child and I was here to tell my mother and father to stop smoking. Also I was here on this web page to study for school. Thankfully I don't smoke!
Maggie on April 09, 2017:
I have quit smoking for 5 months but can't give up the nicotine lozenges especially when I have alcohol
Jon on February 23, 2017:
I kinda thought I might be having problems from the nicotine I get real bad hot flashes feel like I'm going to get sick hands shake all the time and I feel like my sugar is super low and get real panicky feeling and makes it hard to swallow food when I'm eating I think a can Of chew a day for several months have made it worse time to start trying to quit
Omg on January 12, 2017:
You know, this is making everyone freak out about vaping. For those who see this....DONT STOP VAPING BECAUSE OF THIS ARTICLE. Thats not exactly the cause. First of all if your vaping get educated by a worker or friend who uses mods. Mods are the best way to go because the max mg you should go is 6. And most us 3 or under. So inorder for anything to link to vaping with a mod is vaping litterly 24/7. I understand th is article is trying to educate but i belive its scaring people away of a non lethal thing. If you are vaping and dont know much about it then you shouldint have vaped tell you found out. But this is solid info, but vaping wont lead to OD unless one, your using over say 24 to 30 mg nic, and vaping that non stop.
Rebecca (author) from USA on December 03, 2016:
Thanks for the comment :) Glad it helped.
Rebecca (author) from USA on December 03, 2016:
sounds like detox. People forget how many toxins accumulate in our bodies when we smoke for years and years, the body needs time to recover.
Awesome job on quitting! If it continues you may want to see a doc just to make sure you're not under the weather.
Rebecca (author) from USA on December 03, 2016:
I'm assuming she was drinking at the casino? Sounds more like a hangover to me sorry. The odor could be from a combo of multiple toxins leaving her body. Mood disturbance is more likely from another substance. Good luck to you, sorry to hear she was so rude, that's never fun.
Rebecca (author) from USA on December 03, 2016:
excessive nicotine can cause cardiac arrest or respiratory failure, please don't use both. :(
It's unlikely with the dose you mentioned, but why take the risk?
Rayne on November 13, 2016:
The pixie stix worked wonders! Had a nicotine lozenge with a too high nicotine and an empty stomach. Thanks for the article!
Catherine on November 02, 2016:
I stopped smoking six weeks ago I used the clear nicorette patches for the first 3 weeks now I don't use anything but my whole body is so sore
Allan on October 23, 2016:
My wife smokes occasionally because her family has no idea , went to a casino last night and she smoked a pack and a half in 3 hours . Today when she woke up she was so f*#king rude to everyone and my father who was visiting and she doesn't act like this . She is also burning up and has severe aching pain along with foul Oder that is stinking the house up is that normal ... please help
Rebecca (author) from USA on September 25, 2016:
Thanks for your comment Monika, I'm glad to hear you are ok! :)
Monika on September 25, 2016:
Thanks for the article! I just spent 10 hours in hospital on the emergency department because of misuse of the e-cigarette. I dont believe I smoked too much of it , but it was leaking and some of the liquid came in with my mouth, I suffered for 9 hours, whole night of vomiting,confusion,headache,dizziness, and god knows what i else. I can say it was the worst night of my life by far. Eventually I was put under a drop in the hospital and a lot of medication to clear it out of my system. So really just want to say be careful everyone , each person can take in a different amount than another.
Sandy on July 18, 2016:
I know I overdosed on this because I was sure I was dying, heart attack or something like it. I will never touch this thing again not worth the risks.
Lilith on November 14, 2015:
Thank you so much for this article, yesterday I smoked Ambil, mixed with regular tobacco in an attempt to try making something such as Mapacho. The ambil was made from N. Rustica var mohawk. Anyways long story short I had heard about the Curanderos using mapacho and tobacco tea for their voyages and I got interested myself. The ambil I usually eat in the size of two rice grains, assuming the absorption to be more efficient orally (as with tea) I though using one grain of rice worth of ambil with regular tobacco should be OK. Well not really... Ended up taking one toke and then lying in my bed for 3 hours fearing for my life as my heartbeat went up to 200bpm for a shortwhile (10-20min).
The most surprising thing is that it didn`t feel like characteristic nicotine high, as of Thuoc Lao or regular tobacco (N. Tabacum), maybe due to the beta-carbolines.
Anyways, I just wanted to write this as a warning. It`s an efficient poison and can be very interesting but if you`re going to experiment always start really low and be careful. Nicotine poisoning is not fun.
maxmilian michael on October 31, 2015:
i thought real cure of nicotine is the use of phenegan and modicate to recover again but modicate has high risk drwasness which can effect your work even study if any one have any medicayion taste which have low drawseness can conctact me
john on July 01, 2015:
Sorry to hear about the problems you have experienced. I have been vaping for over 3 years, and yes I have had a few headaches before I dropped to 6 or below on nicotine level juice. Now, no more headache or problems (I use about 20-30 ml of juice daily).
However, my friend who has been vaping for 6 months has also explained that he has had some of the same symptoms expressed above. This got us wondering so we did a bit of digging and found this on wikipedia: "Propylene glycol is used as a humectant (E1520), solvent, and preservative in food and for tobacco products, as well as being one of the major ingredients of the "e-liquid" used in electronic cigarettes along with vegetable glycerin. Propylene glycol is also used in various edible items such as coffee-based drinks, liquid sweeteners, ice cream, whipped dairy products and soda. Vaporizers used for delivery of pharmaceuticals or personal care products often include propylene glycol among the ingredients. Propylene glycol is used as a solvent in many pharmaceuticals, includingoral, injectable and topical formulations, such as for diazepam and lorazepam which are insoluble in water.'
Come to find out, he is sensitive to the PG in the e-liquid, soda, and ice cream. He still vapes, but has transitioned to high vg juices and a dripper and he problems have seem to fade away. Best part is, he is no longer smoking and feels great. Best of luck to all of u, P.S. stay away from gas station e-juice. Pay for the quality juice.
DW on June 29, 2015:
THANK U SO MUCH I THOUGHT I WAS LEGITLY DYING FOR THE PAST 3 HOURS CUZ I SMOKED A HOOKA FOR 3 HOURS CUZ I THOUGHT I DIDNT FEEL IT BUT I STOOD UP AND ALMOST PASSED OUT BUT MY FRIEND HELPED ME GET UP AND WENT HOME BUT STAYED UP ALL NIGHT TILL I FELT GOOD ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH MYSELF I CAN TRULY SEE WHO MY BEST FRIEND IS AND I CANT THANK HER ENOUGH THANK YOU SOO MUCH KF
Dougg on June 15, 2015:
Been vapeing for about 2 years now and got the headaches more than a few times. Now with this new mod, I have had a few chest pains which I'm sure is due to over-vapeing and cloud chasing.
My next move is to lower my nicotine level.
Thanks for the write-up....pretty informative.
SeanGauld on June 07, 2015:
I started using the ECig a number of months ago. I was purchasing the £10 ones. They started leaking in my bag and pocket so I threw it away, had another one, threw that one away too. I was just as good as done with ECigs. Went back on to Cigarettes.
My dad handed me this Blu Ecig. I tried it and proven to be affective, No leaking, no trouble. I'm still using it on and off but mainly on. The date is now 07 June 2015, been without a cigharette for 3 days now. I know it's early days but I cycle alot and can Deffo' feel it.
I can sit there and puff away and make myself ill but hey, it's doing me good.
I don't know where I'd be without the Ecigs. FAB bit of equipment.
ncyp13 on June 06, 2015:
useful informative nice work
Daniel Washington from United States on April 06, 2015:
Thank you for sharing the symptoms and treatments of nicotine. I was actually looking for the informative stuff like this. I would definitely recommend this hub to someone in need or lacks knowledge about the nicotine. Thanks again!